Mark Rutte, who debuted as Dutch prime minister in October 2010, is about to repeat in office for the fourth time. If nothing goes wrong, at 54 he will again lead a center-right quadripartite. Rutte is already an example of survival: with his more than 4,000 days in power he approaches the Christian Democrat Ruud Lubbers, who ruled the country between 1986 and 1994, and who is for now the prime minister with the longest government in the history of Netherlands. With the withdrawal of the German Angela Merkel, only the Hungarian Víktor Orbán has spent more time than he at the head of a government in a country of the European Union.
Despite his ability to stay in power, Rutte will have to win over the same constituency that has shown irritation and rejection over past mistakes. The same happens with the rest of the politicians who want to stay together after almost a year of reproaches, parliamentary reproaches and mutual denials in the offices. The Government agreement is expected to reach Parliament this Wednesday.
The new Executive seeks to regain the confidence of the citizen, according to the message that runs through the draft of the coalition pact, formed by old acquaintances, the quartet of the last legislature: Rutte’s right-wing liberals (VVD), left-wing liberals (D66 ), the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Christian Union (ChristenUnie) of Protestant inspiration.
Rutte has made a niche for herself in the parliamentary history of her country. His joviality is proverbial, which he showed even in September, when his protection was reinforced by the threat of an attack by organized crime. His tables, however, did not serve him to overcome the scandal of family aid that caused the resignation en bloc of his third Cabinet in January. What happened to more than 47,000 parents and 97,000 children, according to the latest calculations by the Ministry of Finance, wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019 by the Tax Agency, is one of the greatest collective traumas in recent Dutch history.
Those affected are, for the most part, of immigrant origin, and having assumed political responsibility, the Secretary of State for Finance figures at “5,200 million euros the amount foreseen for the compensation provided until 2025”. It is an amount difficult to forget and its echo reaches the new coalition. According to the Dutch media, the reform of the subsidy and the possible free care of children outside the home up to 12 years of age is contemplated.
The new team that Rutte will be tasked with forming will have a majority in Parliament, but not in the Senate. It aims to be a government that makes up for lost time and tackles entrenched problems, such as homelessness or pollution, and takes on large investments. The economy is in a good moment, with GDP growth that this year may reach 4.5%, although restrictions due to the new wave of the pandemic and high inflation may lower the figure in 2022 to 2.9%, as predicted by the Rabobank bank. The fight against climate change figures prominently in the pact. It was unavoidable, after several court decisions ordered the Government – and also companies such as the oil company Shell – to reduce CO2 emissions by linking environmental protection with the exercise of fundamental rights.
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The four coalition party leaders have weighed the adjectives for the deal. Sigrid Kaag, at the head of the left liberals, has said that it “has a balanced tone.” Wopke Hoekstra, head of the Christian Democrats, acting finance minister and black beast of the southern countries when the rescue fund was being decided to solve the pandemic crisis, admitted that he is happy with the result although he spoke of “moments in those that looked like a forceps delivery ”. ChristenUnie’s Gert-Jan Segers looks more to the future and hopes for “a shift towards openness and service to the citizen”. A wish that fully reaches Rutte, condemned in April by Congress for having allegedly lied during the negotiations to reach this agreement. He then had to fight for his political life in full management of the pandemic. An anomalous position to which the slowness in the vaccination campaign has contributed, at times to the European tail. But also because compliance with the restrictions has been relaxed among the population, something that the experts who advise the Government found.
Rutte plans to have the government list in January. It will not be easy. In the previous legislature there were withdrawals due to exhaustion and resignations; and some candidates have left politics. It is foreseeable that there will be gender equality. The question is how to find new faces among the same partners in the name of renewal.
Rutte’s image is different outside doors than at home. In 2020, the Dutch prime minister was one of the main obstacles to approving the European recovery fund against the pandemic crisis. It demanded that the 27 members of the European Council unanimously approve the national plans and aid disbursements, an unacceptable condition for the main beneficiaries (Italy and Spain) and for the majority of community partners. At the head of the hawks, he aligned himself with the so-called frugal ones, such as Sweden, Austria and Denmark.
The Netherlands is the fifth largest economy in the EU and, following the departure of the United Kingdom, it has perceived that its traditional fiscal discipline was welcomed in the Nordic and Baltic capitals. The toughness displayed in Brussels had broad parliamentary support in The Hague. Hence, Rutte countered criticism from abroad with the argument that solidarity goes hand in hand with reforms and controls.
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